Madam president, p.34

Madam President, page 34


Madam President

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  "Please, just this once give in. For me. Please," Dev whispered. This was far more than just business. She was playing on Lauren's affections, and she knew it. But this wasn't a game, and if Dev had to fight dirty, she would.

  The writer could see real fear in Dev's eyes, and she exhaled explosively, running a slightly shaky hand through her pale hair. She looked away from Devlyn and bit her tongue to keep from continuing to protest. Damn, you fight dirty. She scowled at her options, and when she turned back, intense, gray eyes bore so deeply into the President that she sucked in a surprised breath. "Swear to me that you'll do everything David says when it comes to security."

  Dev blinked a few times. She wasn't expecting that. "Uh..."

  "Promise, Devlyn! Or, so help me, I'll follow you around on a commercial plane if I have to, like some sort of damned groupie!"

  Dev nodded, letting out a long, relieved breath. Yes. Thank you. "I promise."

  "I can't believe I'm letting you get away with this." Lauren shook her head, then pushed her glasses higher up on her nose. "I'm going to worry about you the entire time you're gone."

  Dev stepped forward, and, seeing no resistance in Lauren's face, put her arms back around the smaller woman. "Thank you, Lauren. I know you think this is silly. But I swear to you it's not."

  A pale eyebrow lifted.

  "Okay," Dev conceded, "not completely silly."

  "Just this once, Devlyn." Lauren sighed. "Next time I'm not letting you off the hook so easily. We'll duke it out like always."

  Dev crossed her heart. "Next time you can pitch a fit for a long as you want... and then give in."

  "Don't push it." But Lauren couldn't help but crack a tiny smile.

  Dev smiled back and lifted Lauren's chin so that she was looking deeply into her eyes. She didn't stop to think about what she was saying, or the fact that she hadn't ever said it out loud to Lauren before. "I love you so much it hurts," she whispered fervently. The words dropped effortlessly from her lips. And in that instant, she wondered why in the hell she had waited so long to say them.

  Lauren closed her eyes and buried her face in the crook of Dev's neck. Hot tears pricked her eyes, and she let them come. Dev's arms tightened around her, and she sighed, absorbing the sweet pleasure of the moment. "You-" Lauren stopped and swallowed hard, collecting herself. "You are shameless and will say anything to win an argument," she teased weakly. She squeezed Dev hard and dropped a tender kiss in the hollow of her throat, pulling back to meet glistening blue eyes. Her heart swelled, and she promised, "I love you too."

  * * *

  David handed Dev the report as soon as she walked into the room. "We've got them, Madam President." He smiled triumphantly. "A militia group out of Oregon. They claimed responsibility about twenty minutes ago, and what specifics they let slip about the bombings were enough to confirm that their claim is legitimate. We've already got a bead on their location. They've been under minimal surveillance for months. Although, obviously, we didn't know they were planning anything like this."

  "Everyone involved in the decision making process, in the Oval Office now," Dev ordered, already heading for the room herself. She wanted to be comfortable when she heard this.

  She settled in behind her desk, while everyone else filed in and remained standing. They all stood, waiting for David, who took a seat across from Dev. The next twenty minutes were spent briefing Dev about the militia group and the FBI's plan to go in and 'neutralize' them. She asked every question she could think of and soaked up the intelligence information like a sponge. There were several minor clashes between agencies over exactly how this 'neutralization' should take place, but Dev felt those disagreements helped to flesh out important considerations that shouldn't be ignored.

  When the last briefing was over, Dev remained silent for several moments, absorbing what she'd been told, her mind running through the several scenarios that had been laid on the table for her consideration. Finally, she took a deep breath and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, I need you to step outside for a moment while I consult with the Chief of Staff." Dev's request was met with murmurs of agreement, and the room cleared in a matter of seconds.

  David studied the President attentively. "You know what has to be done, Dev." He sighed, and his gaze dropped to his hands. "We need to take them out before they do more damage."

  "Women and children?"

  The red-haired man chewed the inside of his cheek. "Yes." David looked at his hands again. "The Director of the FBI confirmed that there will very likely be women and children in the compound. Dev, they brought them in months ago as a 'fuck you' to you. The families are there to act as human shields against government invasion."

  "We were just kids, David, but do you remember Waco?"

  "I do, Madam President, but this is entirely different." His mind flashed to the television in his parents' living room, filled with images of flames, explosions, and body bags. "These people have struck out against the nation as a whole. They've already killed. They are large and organized. We got very lucky in tracing their location to this Oregon compound. They have 'hidden' camps all over the country."

  Dev scrubbed her face with her hands. "Jesus Christ." She covered her eyes with her palms for a moment and then let her hands drop to the tabletop. "Can you call everyone back in?"

  David nodded and moved quickly. He opened the door and motioned for the group to reenter the room.

  Dev's expression was firm and grim as she waited for the last man to shut the door behind him before beginning. "So, are we operating under the theory that if we cut off the head of the snake, the body will die?"

  The Attorney General set a new file in front of Dev. "Yes, ma'am, that is the current theory."

  Dev pushed away from the table, rolling her shoulder to alleviate the slight ache that had developed. Her eyes flickered to each person as she spoke. "Is anyone here a student of Greek mythology? Does the word Hydra mean anything to you?"

  The Director of the FBI nodded. "Yes, Madam President. The mythical creature had nine heads. Problem was, if you cut one of them, two grew back."

  "Exactly." Dev waited and let that statement sink into the gathering of men and women. "One moment please." She turned her attention to the new file, carefully reading it over and processing. The best choice was clear. But it made her stomach roil all the same. She closed the manila folder and tossed it back on the table.

  Every set of expectant eyes trained themselves firmly on her, and she met them head on. "Go get them, ladies and gentlemen. The first plan was the best. Go with that, but first incorporate the changes proposed by the ATF. And let's pray that we get every head of this particular Hydra, so we don't have to worry about any growing back."

  "That's it!" David announced quickly getting to his feet. "I want the new plan, with those changes added in, ready for final review by the President in fifteen minutes. Let's call it," his eyes darted to Dev, then back to his audience, "Operation: Hydra."

  The room emptied quickly, leaving Dev and David alone. "You okay?" he asked in a low, concerned voice.

  "I may have just ordered the deaths of innocent women and children. No, I'm not okay," Dev ground out harshly. She stood and gathered the files she'd asked be left for her review. "But it was my call to make, and I made it. Three hundred and ten million people expect me to keep them safe. I had no choice. We have to move right now, before these assholes dig in deeper or bomb somebody else's building."

  David didn't say a word. He knew this tone. This was her I-hated-every-minute-of-it-but-I-did-what-I-had-to-do tone. Her speech was quick, and it was rough. This was a bitter pill for his friend to swallow. But he knew her well enough to know she'd take her medicine. Now Dev just had to live with her decision. Right or wrong.

  "Tell them to get Air Force One ready to fly, David. And then call Beth and-"

  "Tell her I won't be home for dinner?"

  "For probably the next couple of weeks. We're going to Oregon first; I want to be there for t
he fallout. Then to the bombing sites. Jane and Liza will have a heart attack that I'm moving this trip up at the last moment." Dev shrugged. "But the time is right, and they'll live. That reminds me, based on the reports you showed me this morning, only absolutely crucial personnel are going with us this time. I don't want to risk anyone's safety unnecessarily." She moved for the door, but looked back over her shoulder before juggling the files and opening the door. "By the way, congratulations."

  "For what?"

  "You are now the proud owner of the ugliest puppy you will ever lay eyes on."

  * * *

  "Ladies and gentlemen, members of the Press, The President of the United States."

  They had worked on her speech on Air Force One. And by the time her plane landed in Oregon, Operation: Hydra was over, and it was time to brief the nation. You could hear a pin drop as Dev took a deep breath and slowly walked to the podium. She looked directly at the camera and reminded herself to stay cool. "Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming today. As Press Secretary Allen said, I'll be making a short statement about the actions that were taken a few hours ago. At this time, I won't be taking questions; we'll set that up at a later date."

  She paused for a moment, taking a sip of water. To the viewing audience her expression appeared concerned, but mild. But those who knew her well could tell she was troubled. "Early this morning, special tactical units of the DEA, FBI, and ATF, in conjunction with state and local law enforcement agencies, made an early morning entry into the fortified structures of the compound of the Brothers of Freedom militia group - group that had been under observation."

  She looked at the faces before her, making sure her eye contact conveyed that she had nothing to hide. "The entry into the compound was quick and decisive. It was well planned and timed to take place when the least number of people were expected to be awake and moving about. By timing the entrance for the very early morning, we hoped to limit the number of potential casualties, both for the people fortified inside this heavily armed encampment, and our own duly sworn law enforcement and military personnel."

  Devlyn glanced at her notes very briefly, not wanting to lose an ounce of the trust and leadership she was trying to communicate by her statement and confident demeanor. "While, overall, the entrance was a successful one, and many members of the organization were taken into custody, there were, unfortunately, casualties on both sides. Twenty-two members of the militia were killed, and fourteen wounded. Our own agencies sustained losses and injuries to their personnel as well. Combined figures show losses to law enforcement organizations in this operation to be ten dead and five wounded."

  She gripped the edge of the podium and increased the intensity of her voice to finish on a strong note. "The people responsible for the five terrorist attacks within our own borders, which took the lives of several innocent citizens and did millions of dollars in damage to government and civilian targets, have been placed under arrest and will be duly charged. A full investigation continues, and I assure you that everyone involved will be brought to justice. Everything that has happened over the course of this operation happened only after I had been briefed and had given my full consent. I am the only person who should be held responsible for finding the answers to any questions that might arise out of the actions taken under my direction today. As one of my predecessors said, 'The buck stops here'. I am your President, and I will be held accountable."

  Dev knew that last bit was going to drive her entire staff right up the wall. It hadn't been a part of the original speech, but she didn't want there to be any doubt about who had made the decisions in this matter, and who would take the blame for any missteps. "Thank you, ladies and gentlemen."

  She took the time to unbutton her blazer and collect her notes, then she turned and left the room. As she knew they would be, David and Sharon were waiting for her with both their mouths open. "Not a word right now. You can both yell at me later." Dev followed her Secret Service agents through the passages that led back to her hotel room. She did so silently, rereading a list of dead and wounded from the compound raid. She had highlighted the fourth and fifth names on the list; Lisa Lindsay, age eight, and Brian Lindsay, age six. Seeing the words made her sick to her stomach. These were two names she would never forget.

  God help me, I got them killed. And now I get to live with that for the rest of my life.


  September 2021

  Wednesday, September 1st

  LAUREN GLANCED AT her watch again and plopped down on her bed, scattering a handful of envelopes. She sighed and started to tear open another letter. Dev was supposed to have called more than an hour and a half ago, and she needed something to do while she waited. So she was going over the last few days' mail, which was starting to form a messy pile on her desk.

  "C'mon, Devlyn," she grumbled to herself. "Hurry it up. I've got an appointment in an hour." Lauren discarded several pieces of junk mail and began looking over some documents from her publisher. She laughed. Wayne always mixed some personal correspondence in with the business documents he sent. He was ‘old school' and insisted that his authors get paper copies of their books as well as contracts. Technology be damned. This meant that Lauren occasionally got an actual letter. In handwriting! Nobody would believe it.

  Wayne had never believed that she and Dev were only friends. Even in the very beginning, when it was actually true. But once she'd admitted to him that they were in fact dating, the man had become relentless, hammering Lauren for juicy details of her relationship and prodding her forward, telling her she'd been alone far too long. "You were damned right about that, Wayne." The writer looked at her watch again and frowned.

  She was about to toss his letter in the waste bin next to her bed, when she felt something hard in the envelope. She peeked inside and found a small disk. "Ooooo, a present! You might have said something, Wayne," she mumbled. "I almost threw it away."

  Lauren hopped off the bed and checked her watch one last time. She shrugged. "Might as well kill a few minutes while I'm waiting on Wonder Woman. If she calls at all, that is." She moved to the entertainment center that was hidden inside an antique, cherry cabinet. Opening the door, she slid the shiny circle into her videodisc player, wondering what it could be. Not that she was complaining. She'd only seen one movie all year, and that was when Dev had arranged for the special screening in the White House on their first date, over two months ago.

  She scrambled back to her bed and nearly tripped over the crate that was filled with a sleeping Gremlin, Princess and their puppies.

  A three-dimensional image of a beautiful, middle-aged woman, wearing a white terry cloth bathrobe and sitting on a recliner flared to life, and her dulcet tones filled Lauren's room. "Starlight Publishing presents, the videodisc version of the best selling novel: Lesbian Loving: A Step By Step Guide to Satisfaction."

  Lauren's mouth dropped open. "Why is everyone sending me instructions? Do I look totally inept or something?!"

  "I'm Angela Pickard. And this is my lovely partner, Francine." She made a ‘come hither' motion with her index finger, and a tall, stacked brunette suddenly came into view as she joined her mate.

  "Oh, my God, Wayne! You are such a shithead," Lauren laughed, covering her eyes.

  "Come with me and Francine on a journey of self-exploration, enlightenment, and sexual satisfaction."

  Lauren uncovered her eyes and smirked. "But will you get naked?"

  "Chapter One: Getting to know each other's bodies."

  "Oh, my." Gray eyes widened. "We have naked."

  * * *

  Dev looked at Liza, who tapped her watch. The President had been in such a mood lately that her assistant hated to say anything. Then again, that was her job. "Madam President, you're incredibly late."

  "Aren't I always?" Dev answered moodily as she circled her hotel suite, looking for the phone. She waved Liza off with an impatient hand. "I know. I know. But I just need five minutes. Please? I'm already late. What diff
erence could five minutes make now?"

  Liza sighed. "Ma'am-"

  "I'll give you the state of Arizona."

  Liza smiled. "I don't think you can do that, ma'am."

  "Okay, I won't make you take one of the puglies." Dev crossed long arms and waited.

  "You just bought yourself five minutes, Madam President."

  "Wonderful!" Dev practically dove for the phone, which turned out to be on the night stand by the bed. The President always traveled with her own communications equipment, and her staff knew just where she liked things placed. Unfortunately, some hotel room electrical layouts weren't as accommodating to Dev's preferences as others.

  Liza snorted softly and left the President to her call.

  But before the brunette could give her access codes, David entered her suite without knocking. "Dev-"

  "Go away!" She grabbed a throw pillow from the bed and threw it at him with deadly accuracy. "I'm calling my girlfriend." The words sounded strange and thrilling to Dev's ears, and she smiled for the first time all day.

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